Moving Knowledge into Action: Applying Social Marketing Principles to Crime Prevention

By Homel, Peter; Carroll, Tom | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Moving Knowledge into Action: Applying Social Marketing Principles to Crime Prevention


Homel, Peter, Carroll, Tom, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


Foreword |

This paper considers the potential application of social marketing principles to crime prevention. Social marketing has been a significant force in the public health field in Australia for more than two decades. It is a key component in the promotion of engagement in health protection behaviours, early detection programs and the promotion of individual health behaviour change. It is built on the application of evidence-based strategies and often, dual consumer/provider communication strategies. The process works to translate evidence-based knowledge about effective practice for key target groups in a way that enables them to take action to modify their own behaviour to achieve the most efficacious outcomes. The approach places a strong focus on formative research to gain a thorough understanding of the audience's perspective on the issue being addressed and to frame what is being promoted in a way that engages this audience and meets their needs. Careful consideration of environmental mediators and potential facilitators of the promoted behaviour are also strong features of social marketing strategies. The potential for the social marketing approach to be applied to crime prevention is examined through examples of older people and crime, and online grooming of young people using social networking sites.

Judy Putt

General Manager, Research

During the late 1 990s and early 2000s, Britain undertook a large-scale project to reduce the rate of crime on a number of key indicators such as domestic burglary, motor vehicle theft and domestic violence, among other crime types. As part of this major national initiative, researchers were also carefully studying the effectiveness of the interventions that were being used in order to improve the repertoire of effective strategies (Homel et al 2004).

One of the intervention streams for the UK program was called the Reducing Burglary Initiative (RBI). The RBI involved around 60 demonstration projects in the three areas of England and Wales with the highest rates of domestic burglary (Hamilton-Smith 2004). A significant number of those projects (around 21) included at least some form of publicity designed to promote participation by householders in the planned schemes as well as some presumed deterrent message for potential burglars (Kodz & Pease 2003).

When analysing the impacts of the demonstration projects, the researchers found that publicising local crime prevention activity could, in itself, reduce burglaries (Johnson & Bowers 2003). Further, they noted that in 42 of the 60 schemes there was evidence suggesting that there had been a significant reduction in burglary in the three months immediately preceding actual implementation.

Johnson and Bowers (2003) attributed this reduction to the impact of the pre-publicity schemes associated with the introduction of the interventions and referred to it as an 'anticipatory benefit' effect. This interpretation was based on an earlier analysis by some other British researchers, Smith, Clarke and Pease (2002), who suggested that publicity about upcoming interventions impacted on offenders' perceptions of the availability of suitable opportunities to offend. In turn, this analysis was derived from an interpretation of the theories of offender behaviour such as Cornish and Clarke's (1986) Rational Choice Perspective and the crime triangle (Cohen & Felson 1979) that posits that a crime opportunity is a function of the presence of a suitable victim and a motivated offender, as well as the absence of capable guardian.

However, these explanations were focused on the behaviour of real and potential offenders, not their victims. An equally plausible explanation, the mechanisms of which are explored here, is that it was the householders who were motivated by the pre-program publicity to begin to think more actively about their circumstances as potential burglary victims and to undertake actions to prevent victimisation based on what they already knew they could and should do, but simply hadn't done already. …

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Moving Knowledge into Action: Applying Social Marketing Principles to Crime Prevention
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